Sunday, February 7, 2010

And Now, Finally, Why I Really Will be Sitting on the Couch for the Olympics!

Okay, before I finally try to wrap this long tale up, I wanted to provide a shout out for The Frilly Coconut (see her button on my side thingie-what's-it) for giving my blog the face lift. I will be doing a whole post on how I came to "know" her - we've never actually met - because I think it's an interesting study on modern society in an Internet World, but for now, I figured I needed to finish this whole thing up, but wanted to really, really thank her for being wonderful and giving me this fantastic new look. At least in cyberspace, I look good!

Anyway, on with my story: Now the other thing to know about Salt Lake City is that it is filled with bright eyed, fresh faced, flaxen haired teenage Mormons. I have never seen so many beautiful, healthy, seemingly well adjusted young women with braided hair poking out from under wool caps in all my life. We stood out like a sore thumb. There was Marissa, sporting my Dad's World War II bombardier jacket, which was about ten sizes too big for her. There was me looking like I should have been on the Steeler sideline instead of in ski country, and then there was Kelsey, wearing black eyeliner, clearly not healthy, and looking consistently pissed off. Because she was. About everything. I would like to tell you we didn't draw stares, but we did. And while members of the Mormon Church had been instructed by church elders not to solicit tourists in town for the Olympics, that didn't stop other groups from gathering there looking for lost souls, and they were drawn to us like moths to a flame. Which was uncomfortable and irritating to all three of us.

Our hosts weren't quite sure what to make of us either. While always gracious, it was clear we were of a different ilk than what they were used to, and I think we made them uncomfortable. Despite that, Mrs. Liddiard could not stop herself from bending over completely backwards to take care of us. Unfortunately, her own life experiences clashed with Kelsey's food issues in a major way. A mother of nine children, she had gone through a time in her life where providing enough food was a challenge. Now, with her children grown and her personal finances more secure, it became immediately clear that she nurtured through food. And lots of it. She consistently was trying to feed us huge meals. She was an excellent cook, and I was convinced she had missed her true calling as a chef for an NFL team, because the portions were clearly meant for linebackers. She would get up with us, no matter how early, and cook a massive breakfast. She would wait up for us so she could cook dinner. She made snack packs for us to take out each day. I was touched, albeit embarrassed, that she was going through so much trouble, but it was also uncomfortable and triggering for Kelsey. I never did figure out how to graciously convince her not to fuss over us. Nor could I ever figure out how to make that much highly caloric food less threatening for the girls.

Then there was the cold. In the actual city, it was unseasonably warm, but we made three trips out to a locale called Soldier Hollow for cross country ski events. Soldier Hollow had been chosen specifically not only for it's large open spaces, but because of its consistently cold temperature, which would keep the snow in perfect condition for racing. I want to tell you it was around 20 degrees below zero each time we were there. That may not be completely true, it may only have seemed that way, but even I would tell you it was bitterly cold, and I had grown up in ski country. I was sporting two hand warmers in each boot, plus a couple more in my gloves every time we were there. Kelsey finally had enough and refused to leave the warming tent on the last trip there. I was furious, but left her and Marissa there to drudge off and watch some race or other that I no longer remember much about. Truth is, I didn't care much about it, I just felt like we had spent a bloody fortune for the tickets, so I wasn't going to waste them.

And, speaking of tickets, with only one really premium event left on our dance card after the men's long program, it occurred to me to head home early, but I still held out some hope that I would be able to snag tickets for the women's competition. Not so. We weren't the only ones looking. People had come to town with no tickets at all, thinking that, Post-911, there would be a cornucopia of tickets available, turned in by people afraid to travel. If there had been a ticket dump, I suspect local residents grabbed them up. Or maybe people just held on to them, as determined as I was not to lose out on the opportunity. Whatever the case, there were no spare tickets to be had for anything, let alone the events we would have been interested to see. Nonetheless, I kept us there the full compliment of days, doggedly determined to see this thing through, even though it wasn't a day at the picnic for any of us.

Lack of sleep caught up with us pretty early on. The altitude didn't help, I'm sure. That made every little thing magnified. Kelsey hated being away from her boyfriend, she hated being stared at and feeling judged all the time. She was cold, she was bored, and she was tired. She wanted to go to a punk show at a tiny little club downtown on our one night free, and was livid when I wouldn't let her go, but for crying out loud, we were all so exhausted; I wasn't about to give up the one night to rest to be out until 2:00 AM listening to awful music from a band who would be coming to Austin at some point - they all do eventually. Marissa felt torn, I think, between the two of us. In other words, more of the same situation that drew her into her own troubles, only she had no way to get away from us to give herself a break.

By the end of the nine days, we were all so sick of one another, we were barely speaking. We certainly weren't saying much of anything polite when we did. My car had developed an oil leak, it still hadn't forgiven me for almost running it out of gas and was running a little rough, which it would do for a couple of weeks all told, and I was so tired all the time I could barely think straight. When we finally packed up and headed back down south, we felt like we had been through a war zone, not a vacation. All my long months of planning, all the hope I had started this trip with, trying to convey to my daughters that I wanted to commit time and attention to them, wanting them to see young people competing and being successful, all of that stuff, all of it for naught. I would have many other incidences over the years of setting out with the best intentions, only to misstep along the way, but this by far the most expensive, ambitious and colossal mess of them all.

I made light of it in my holiday letter that year, saying something about us looking back on it fondly after we've caught up on our sleep, despite it being ten months prior. But, we never have. Time has never done its magic. We rarely mention it. Marissa reminisced about those lovely fluffy mattresses that the Liddiards had recently, when we finally found something almost as nice in Pittsburgh, but I don't think I ever once heard Kelsey mention it again. I think the kindest thing my daughters could do was not to mention it, because it would likely have come out something like, "Remember that time you drug us out to the boondocks in the freezing cold...?"

I'm excited it's almost time for the Olympics again this year. My favorite hockey player, Sidney Crosby, along with several other Penguins will be skating for their respective home countries, and I look forward to reconnecting a bit with a sport I once loved as much as I love my Steelers and trying to find a new champion now that Michelle has moved on to other ventures. But, I will be doing it from the comfort of my living room, remote control in hand. And gladly so.

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